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Second Reading

Part of Trade Union Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:39 pm on 11th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour 6:39 pm, 11th January 2016

I am grateful for being put right and I will endeavour to do my best on that score. I cannot guarantee it, however. You have nicely thrown me off my line as well. Thank you very much for that.

After looking at the relatively modest references in the manifesto to working conditions for 30 million people, what I really wanted to look for in the legislation, when it came, was the whole point about what is going wrong with industrial relations that needs rescuing—I pick up the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, particularly—to see whether we can find some way of having a piece of legislation that was not simply negative but would perhaps look to the positive as well.

On 19 November, the Minister reminded us:

“This is a free country. Everybody has the right to belong to a trade union. Equally, there is no compulsion in the workplace to do so. Closed shops are a thing of the past”.—[Hansard, 19/11/15; col. 312.]

Of course they are. However, what she or some of her friends may not realise is that we now have millions of people at work who do not know what we are talking about when we talk about the closed shop. It is in the past. But if one looks at the evidence that has come from a whole range of organisations about the nature of conditions at work, what many people know is that when they go to work, where they spend much of their lives, they have very little control over it; as technology develops, they have less and less so, and there is often a diminishing respect between employer and employees. If she cares to look at the work that has been done by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, she will see that one in three employees experienced a form of interpersonal conflict at work in the preceding year; and that a lack of respect is the most common way in which conflicts affect behaviour at work, with 61% saying that they have difficulties with those issues.

Yes, those 24 million people are free to join trade unions if they wish, although there have to be 50 or more workers employed and the majority of them voting for it for a trade union to be admitted to represent them. Since over 90% of those employees are in small to medium enterprises with fewer than 50 employees, it is not surprising that there is an ever-growing body of employees with no representative rights at work. Going back to your manifesto, will you tell the 24 million to 25 million UK employees who are not in unions how you will fight for them, how you will fight for equal opportunity, and how you will see greater gender equality at work and the other aspects that are mentioned in the manifesto?

In the main, most of these issues cannot be resolved by legislation at the centre. They have to be worked at. Those of us who have worked in workplaces know that the solutions are to be found down at the workplace level. But now, as I say, an increasing number of people are effectively voiceless. Although unemployment has been falling, there is a rising number of low-skilled jobs, zero-hours contracts and low pay, with stagnant productivity across the country and ill-equipped and poorly trained staff. Are the trade unions responsible for that? I would say no, and I do not believe the Minister herself would agree with that.

What we therefore need is something to go in this legislation which is positive, which works for the other people who are there. I know that the unions did not particularly want to see changes in the legislation that was introduced in 2005 on consultation. Perhaps the Minister might go back and have a look at that and see whether we cannot find something that would be positive and of benefit and would get us away from the continual divisions that we find on industrial relations and produce the consensus that is needed to make things better.